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Kyrgyz, Tajik authorities report dozens dead from border clash as fighting ends

BISHKEK, April 30 (Reuters) - Authorities in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan reported nearly 40 people killed in fighting over a reservoir and water pumping station at their disputed border, in one of the bloodiest clashes in years on the restive frontier.

Villagers and border guards reached a ceasefire overnight and by Friday the fighting appeared to have ended. The presidents of both countries spoke by phone for the first time since the clashes broke out.

The clashes had erupted this week along the frontier between Tajikistan’s Sughd province and Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken province because of a dispute over the reservoir and pump, claimed by both sides on the Isfara river.

Villagers from opposing sides hurled rocks at each other and border guards joined the fray with guns, mortars and even, according to Kyrgyz border guards, a Tajik attack helicopter. At least one Kyrgyz border outpost and a number of houses on the Kyrgyz side were set ablaze, while Tajikistan reported damage from shelling to a bridge.

Kyrgyz authorities reported 31 people killed on their side, all but three of them civilians, and 123 wounded. Local government sources in Tajikistan said eight people had been killed on their side, including four border guards. The tolls were many times higher than initially reported on Thursday.

The sides reported no fresh fighting on Friday. Kyrgyzstan, which had accused Tajik troops of entering its territory, said they had withdrawn.

“The heads of states discussed measures to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border,” Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov’s office said after his conversation with Tajik leader Imomali Rakhmon.

However, videos posted on social media showed volunteers gathering in various parts of Tajikistan to head to the conflict zone.

The frontier, dating to the Soviet era, is poorly demarcated and border disputes are frequent, though usually on a smaller scale.

Both countries host Russian military bases and maintain close relationships with Moscow. The Kremlin said on Friday it was “deeply concerned” by the clash and that President Vladimir Putin was ready to act as a mediator. (Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek and Nazarali Pirnazarov in Dushanbe Writing by Olzhas Auyezov)

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